With the autonomous air taxi from A to B: When is it time?

Karlsruhe (dpa) – The Bruchsal air taxi startup Volocopter speaks of the “Dorothee Bear moment”: The moment a few months after the last federal election 2017 when CSU Politician Bär shortly after her appointment as Minister of State for Digitization in March 2018 spoke of the fact that in the future air taxis may be able to fly from A to B.

A lot of malice them for the sentence. But the idea of ​​autonomously flying aircraft that could relieve traffic has long been bothering many companies and at the time unexpectedly catapulted the topic into the public eye. Now the next federal election is coming up – how far have the utopias of that time come?

“There are already many technically well-engineered prototypes, but there are still no“ reality checks ”,” says Michael Decker from the institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS) in Karlsruhe. Because many questions are unanswered: “For example, where are they supposed to take off and land, what about the already very strict German guidelines with noise during the day or at night.”

Many people are still skeptical


It is also a big question whether the aircraft have a pilot on board or not: “If the device flies completely autonomously, then a few questions of acceptance come into play,” he says. It may feel good on a sunny and windless day, but in thunderstorms or storms it might quickly become uncomfortable for one or the other. ”

There is indeed still a lack of acceptance, like researchers at the Stuttgarter Fraunhofer Institute for Labor Economics and Organization (IAO) found out in a user survey in Germany, USA and South Korea. In Germany, just under 40 percent of those surveyed would not board an autonomous air taxi, good 28 percent would at least find it rather unlikely. Instead, fear and fear prevailed across all age groups. Conclusion of the study published in February of this year: Autonomous air taxis for transporting people in cities have so far been “still more of a hype topic.”

“We know the critical acceptance studies,” replies Florian Reuter , Managing Director of Volocopter – and opposes it. A study by the Stuttgart University of Applied Sciences from 2019 shows that acceptance is far higher as soon as respondents themselves had the opportunity to see an air taxi fly. In December 2019 a Volocopter air taxi flew for the first time in front of an audience in a European city in Stuttgart. Afterwards, about 1200 of the 12000 viewers were questioned – 67 percent had the information the use of an air taxi is said to be likely to very likely.

The Bruchsal-based company has been dealing with the topic of air taxis for more than ten years, «we are the pioneers in this field, that makes us so fast nobody is doing anything, ”says Reuter. Volocopter wants to offer commercial connections in time for the Olympic Games 2024 in Paris – if the authorities there cooperate. “Some national confirmations are still needed.” By the end of 2023 Volocopter wants to clear the last hurdle, then into the trial operation – “then we want to be able to fly to some Olympic locations from the airport”.

At some point as normal as driving a taxi?

But Reuter wants to take concerns about autonomous taxis seriously. “We are initially flying with a pilot, so you have to break the ice first,” he says. The authorities that have to regulate the airspace also felt more comfortable when a pilot was on board, “because the legal framework for fully autonomous operation does not yet exist”.

Air taxi projects around the globe are numerous, expert estimates range between 100 and 120. Many companies are involved in the segment – such as Airbus, Daimler or Volkswagen. The Bavarian start-up Lilium also wants to go into series production in a few years with its electric aircraft and has just made its debut on the US stock exchange Decker still assesses: Neither have there been enough take-off and landing sites so far, nor an effective airspace management that could sometime in the future navigate thousands or even tens of thousands of air taxis over cities. Projects at European level such as SESAR (Single European Sky ATM Research) have been researching this for years.

A completely different question is that of costs. In the long run, the flight with an air taxi will be comparable to the price of a taxi ride, says Reuter. However, this also requires sufficient passengers – and when the time comes is written in the stars. Because Decker from the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS) in Karlsruhe would not sit in an autonomous flying taxi at the moment: «« There are still too many imponderables for that. »

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